Brazil SARS-CoV-2 Variant Found in UK 'Not One of Concern'

Peter Russell

January 15, 2021

Editor's note, 16 January 2021: This article was updated with new information from Public Health England.

One of two types of variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus believed to have originated in Brazil has already been detected in the UK, according to a leading virologist.

Prof Wendy Barclay/SMC

However, Prof Wendy Barclay, chair in influenza virology at Imperial College London, said the one found in the UK was not the "one of concern". Prof Barclay, who was speaking during a briefing hosted by the Science Media Centre on a new consortium of scientists set up to study the effects of emerging variants, said: "There are two different types of Brazilian variants and one of them has been detected [here] and one of them has not."

In common with the UK and South African variants, the Brazil variants have multiple spike mutations and deletions and are known to spread quickly in a population with high pre-existing immunity.

Prof Barclay, who sits on the NERVTAG committee that advises the Government on new and emerging respiratory viruses, said the variant detected in the UK "was probably introduced some time ago, and…will be being traced very carefully".

In a later statement, Prof Barclay said: "The new Brazilian variant of concern, that was picked up in travellers going to Japan, has not been detected in the UK.  Other variants that may have originated from Brazil have been previously found."

Prof Barclay was briefing journalists on a new national research project to trace and investigate emerging mutations in SARS-CoV-2.

Later, Public Health England said 35 genomically confirmed and 12 genomically probable cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variant which originated in South Africa have been identified in the UK.

New Group to 'Horizon Scan' for Variants of Concern

The consortium comprising scientists from 10 research institutions has been named 'G2P-UK', standing for 'genotype to phenotype'. It will work alongside the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium and Public Health England with the aim of increasing the UK's capacity to study newly identified virus variants and rapidly inform Government policy.

Prof Barclay said establishment of the new group did not mean that there was a gap in surveillance, but there was "a bottleneck in translating the sequencing information into the biological data that needs to be input into the risk assessment".

She explained: "What we hope to do is to be able to horizon scan for all the different viruses and variants that are being picked up by COG-UK and try to work out which ones have meaningful mutations that we should be more worried about than others."

Prof Michael Malim, G2P-UK co-lead and head of the School of Immunology and Microbial Sciences at King's College London, said: "We'll be studying how these variants react to human immune responses, both immunity that has existed through natural infections in the past by this virus, as well as immunity generated through vaccination, where of course there's a lot of activity right now."

The 10 research institutions involved are Imperial College London, The Pirbright Institute, King’s College London, University of Glasgow, University of Bristol, University of Liverpool, University College London, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, and the Francis Crick Institute.

The consortium was launched with £2.5 million funding from UK Research and Innovation.

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